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What is the theory behind reflexology?

Updated February 21, 2017

Alternative medicine practices continue to gain popularity as replacement treatments, or as a complement to traditional medical treatments. Theories involving the body's energy flow and pressure points have evolved into a number of alternative practices. Reflexology practices are based on how the body's energy flow relates to overall health.

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The practice of reflexology uses the hands, feet and ears to free-up energy blockages throughout the body. Its general philosophy is based on the concept of "chi" or "chi" being the universal energy that flows through the universe. As such, the body's energy flow is seen as mapped out on the soles of the feet, hands and ears. Each area of the foot, hand, and ear corresponds with a specific region of the body. Through massaging these areas, healing and regeneration flows through the corresponding parts.


Reflexology first originated as "zone therapy" in the early 1900s. William H. Fitzgerald, MD is credited with first putting this theory into practice. Fitzgerald proposed the concept of bioelectrical energy, and how it flowed through different zones of the body. The hands and feet were considered the "reflex points" of these zones. Wire springs were initially used to manipulate the toes of the feet. Fitzgerald's general philosophy was that sickness represented a blockage within the body's energy flow.


In reflexology, the "chi," or vital energy, is said to flow between and throughout the organs and cells of the body. In practice, a patient who has problems with headaches would also have a corresponding area on her foot for that region. If a reflexologist were to apply pressure to the area on the foot that corresponds with the head, the patient will feel pain in that area. Crystal deposits are seen as the source of this pain. Using the thumb, finger and hand techniques, the reflexologist breaks down these crystal deposits, and thereby clears the energy blockage that's causing the headaches.


Reflexology is used to alleviate pain and discomfort associated with digestive disorders, sports injuries, back pain, menstrual disorders, tension headaches, and other stress-related conditions. The layout of the feet and hands acts as a top to bottom format where the tips of the toes represent the region of the head, and the heel of the foot represents the lower back. The ball of the foot and the arch of the foot represent central organs in the body like the heart-chest area, and the organs in the abdominal region.


The theory of reflexology relies heavily on the principle of energy flow, and as such is virtually impossible to measure or verify within a scientific setting. Leaning more toward the metaphysical end of the spectrum, this practice has been labelled as a "pseudoscience." As such, a great number of scientists and medical professionals consider its practice of no benefit, since there is no physiological evidence to support its claims. In spite of this stance, many still seek out the medical benefits that result from reflexology massage techniques.

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About the Author

Jacquelyn Jeanty

Jacquelyn Jeanty has worked as a freelance writer since 2008. Her work appears at various websites. Her specialty areas include health, home and garden, Christianity and personal development. Jeanty holds a Bachelor of Arts in psychology from Purdue University.

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